- by Alyson Shane
Mostly because it scares people.
They don't know what to say, do, how to react to the reality that someone they love and care about has seriously considered removing themselves from existence because
the weight of the world is just too much to bear, sometimes.
And if you're not the kind of person who can look at suicide and say
"yeah, that makes sense. I can see how that can feel like an option."
Then it can be hard to understand where those feelings come from.
For me, suicidal feelings have come and gone like the tide. Sometimes they're stronger; when the tide is in. When the tide's out, they're just a nagging thought in the back of my head. My darkest fears are out to sea.
But, like the ocean, they're always there.
John and I talked about Kate Spade last night, and this morning as we were talking about the news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide, and how the news made me feel, and he said:
I think your suicidal thoughts are a holdover from your family. You went through a lot of trauma and you can learn to put these thoughts and feelings down, just like you've put so much of your trauma down in the last few years.
And though he meant well, I felt like I was hitting the same wall that so many people who struggle with these feelings come up against: the people we love rationalizing away our irrational feelings for us because they love us, and because they're scared.
Telling us that suicide is cheap, cowardly, and selfish.
That the people who take their own lives have no regard for how it impacts other people.
That we should want to cling as desperately to life as they think we should.
That if we just worked a little harder, tried a little more... then we wouldn't feel this way.
And maybe they're right. I don't know.
But hearing those things doesn't make me want to reach out. It makes me want to retreat further into myself. To not confide.
Because hearing someone - anyone - say "you can get rid of those thoughts if you just worked harder" makes me feel like a failure.
Because hearing someone - anyone - say "your life is so good, though. You have no reason to feel that way" makes me feel like I don't deserve what I have.
Because hearing someone - anyone - say "suicide is a cowardly move that doesn't take how other people feel into consideration" makes me feel like - well, I'm guess I'm a coward for feeling this way, so what does it matter?
Which, I assume, is how people like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, who were so famous, so loved, so admired, and so cherished by thousands, maybe even millions of people
could feel so profoundly alone and misunderstood
to the point where they made that final decision.
It's got me thinking that maybe addressing suicidal thoughts isn't about "fixing" people. Maybe the people who have suicidal thoughts aren't "broken people" who need to be "fixed."
Maybe they're just other people who are wired a bit differently, and who need our support.
Just like our society is working to support people with other types of mental illness, LGBTQ people, and people with mental and physical disabilities, maybe it's time we started working to just support the people who struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Not fix them. Not make them better.
But just accept that some of us just are this way. This is our reality.
It doesn't make us bad people
or cowardly people
or selfish people.
At least, not any more so than the average person.
When we reach out we're not asking for someone to solve our problems.
Hell, we're often not even looking to "solve" it, ourselves.
We just need a life raft when the high tide comes in.
If you're feeling suicidal, please talk to someone. Call your mom, your boyfriend, your best friend, or, if you're feeling too overwhelmed, the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-435-7170 or call any of the other 24-hour crisis hotlines to get help.
- by Alyson Shane
I'm on a flight right now.
Sitting in a middle seat between a quiet dude and a lady with a baby with big brown eyes. The baby keeps grabbing my hair a bit and pulling, which hurts but not too much, so I'm not too bothered.
We've been in the air for a few hours and I've finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, which is the book I brought for the trip. I've read it before, but it's been nice to revisit it given the current political climate and recent tv series starring Elizabeth Moss.
Margaret Atwood manages to be so quietly sinister in her writing. I forgot how upsetting this book was.
But now that I'm done I have nothing to do, so I'm writing this and looking over the dude's shoulder out the window.
(I covet window seats, but I didn't book these so it wasn't up to me.)
We're descending into Pearson Airport right now and I can see Toronto in the distance. The sun is setting and it's misty. I can see the dim outline of the CN Tower against the misty lake.
There's a big, wide highway that leads from a suburb
(Mississauga? Brampton? Oakville?)
into the heart of the city. Like a big, thick vein.
An artery for cars.
I used to know the names of these streets, once. I pored over Google Maps, memorizing the streets and picturing myself walking down their sidewalks.
Once upon a time I daydreamed about disappearing into this big, noisy metropolis. Forgetting my name, history, family.
All the things I knew or believed about myself.
Every city has that appeal for someone, I suppose. People looking to start over. For an opportunity. A big break. A culture shock.
Or just to get out of their own damn hometown.
Toronto used to be that to me, once. I was obnoxious with how much I wanted to live there. How I compared it - unfairly, of course - to Winnipeg.
(How annoying I must have been.)
It's weird to see it now and feel that same familiar pull. Like a fish hook in my navel, pulling me towards those towers of glass. The possibilities.
But we're about to land and if I'm being honest I can't wait to get back to Winnipeg.
I miss home.
- by Alyson Shane
On our second-last night on the island we finally decided to go to Pippy's restaurant.
Pippy (pronounced Pépe) spends his days hanging out in front of one of the Chinese grocery stores with a menu in his hand heckling people to go eat at the restaurant where he works, telling them about the day's specials.
It was getting dark and we'd just finished watching the tarpin over by Tarpin Watch, which is a dock on one end of the island where a bunch of huge tarpin congregate
where you can buy bags of anchovies for a few bucks and when you pinch them between your thumb and forefinger and hang your hand over the dock the wild fish will jump up and take it from your hand
and I was ready to eat, so when we walked by Pippy and he hollered at us about the conch soup we were like
"fine, okay. Take us to the restaurant."
He starts walking us down a residential street with no restaurant signs to be seen and it's getting dark and I'm wondering where the heck this restaurant is
and we round a corner and find a picnic shelter with a few picnic tables and some rowdy folks enjoying some amazing-smelling food.
They were finishing up but stayed around to chat for a bit. Their names were Jen, Brian, Zane, Nick, and I think we also met another Jen and Shawn that evening, and an older lady named Kale and her husband Ricky Lee, and we all bonded over being from cold places.
Jen and Brian were on the island to get married and invited us to their wedding the next day which of course we agreed to. They went on their way and we stayed at Meldy's (the restaurant's name) to finish eating some of the best damn curry shrimp I've ever had.
Afterward we were treated to a series of rum punch drinks courtesy of a young Belgian couple we ran into while buying beer from the store. Her nipple piercing was infected (!!!) and we helped them buy Hydrogen Peroxide so they made us drinks as a "thank you"
(people are so nice on vacation!)
But after a few of those I was feeling tipsy and needed a snack so we walked up Front St to a street vendor selling the best damn burrito you'll ever eat, and a golf cart pulls up and we hear
"Hey John and Alyson!"
and it's Jen and Brian and Nick and Zane on the golf cart and Pippy's on the back and we hop on and go up to the street and party with them all night. Pippy rapped and we did way too many shots and had the blurriest night filled with so many laughs.
The next morning we slept through as much of our hangover as possible and spent the day wandering around the island, soaking up our last day and hunting for lobster to eat.
At 5pm we walked to The Split where the wedding was supposed to start and noticed some local police officers driving up on a golf cart behind us. Over by the bar were all the friends we'd made the night before, as well as some of the locals from the island and some of the expats Jen and Brian had met during their stay.
It felt like a weird, beautiful culmination of many of the faces that had started to feel familiar over the last few weeks. Even Thug Taxi was there!
We grabbed beers and waited for Jen and Brian to arrive and since the weather was getting dark and the wind was picking up Nick decided to get things underway.
I took video and John snapped photos and everyone formed a semi-circle around the couple as Nick officiated. One of the police officers on the island, Lieutenant (or was it Constable?) Terrance played Charlie Pride and George Jones.
Pippy, the unsuspecting catalyst for all of these amazing memories and new friendships was Brian's best man.
When the ceremony was over we saw Jen and Brian off in their "chariot"
(a golf cart with a plastic cover to guard from the rain)
with beers in hand and walked up Front St. to a restaurant called Hibiscus where we drank martinis and ate amazing food and laughed until our throats felt raw.
It was a nice reminder that weddings don't have to be a big hoopla.
That they can be about you and a couple of people you love and some random people you invited into your life.
That it can be a chance to make new friends and help other make great memories, too.
Honestly that wedding was the best possible way to end our trip.
P.S. Hi Jen, Brian, Nick and Zane!
- by Alyson Shane
For most of our stay we rented an AirBnB in a place called The Bahia which is a thirty minute walk or so from the village of Caye Caulker.
When we arrived on the island it was after dark and the golf cart taxi that we caught at the water ferry dock almost got lost because he took the long way around, which didn't have street lights or signs.
As we pulled up to the big yard the security lights came on and three friendly dogs came running up to us. These dogs would become good friends in the coming weeks, despite one of them chewing up one of John's shoes when I moved them outside to sweep.
Our AirBnB host was waiting to walk us through our space: two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and two-tier deck that we would call home for the next 10 days.
I'm surprised in retrospect how easily we settled into quiet days in our house.
Most mornings the sunlight and heat would wake me up before 7AM and I'd spend quiet mornings on the couch working, or laying in the hammock with a book and petting the dogs while John snoozed.
Waking up and standing on the deck and looking at the ocean while I sipped my coffee filled me with a sense of contentedness that I don't often feel.
It's surprising how at peace one can feel when close to water, or the ocean.
On the first day we biked into town and got breakfast, but in the following days we ate most of our breakfasts at home. John would make eggs and sausage and I cut up fresh tomatoes, papaya, and slices of thick cheese. We ate sitting across from each other, our legs brushing under the table.
The AirBnB came with two cruiser bikes and most days we rode our bikes into the village in the morning and rode them back in the early afternoon after we'd gone swimming, kayaking, or scuba diving.
In the evenings we would shower and walk back on foot to get dinner somewhere, dodging potholes and petting the various dogs that lived in the neighbourhood.
At night we'd walk home or catch a golf cart taxi if it was raining, or if we were too tired. Whenever we came home the dogs would be there to meet us, running up to our bikes or jumping onto the back of the taxi to say "welcome back!" when we arrived.
One night when it was storming we retreated to our little home and listened to music and talked and drank beer as the rain pelted the house. I spotted two geckos on the walls that night.
The following morning I woke up and there was a man breaking up seashells and debris in our yard using a machete. I watched him for a bit from inside and we waved at each other when I stepped outside to set up the hammock. He had two little boys with him, one of which was his son, and I enjoyed watching them chase the dogs around the yard while he worked.
Since The Bahia is still in development - there are several streets that are planned, but not built, and the area is undergoing a surge with new houses and AirBnBs bleeding into the area - it was far enough from the village that most of the people around weren't tourists.
Around 8AM every morning one of our neighbours - I use this term loosely because there were several feet of swampy mangrove roots in-between our houses - would start playing music. Loudly. Usually it was some sort of salsa or Spanish fusion.
Within a few hours one of our other neighbours - this one was further up the street, I think - would start blaring his music (usually Top 40's hip hop) and the two of them would wage a war of attrition against one another all day. Each one slowly turning up his or her music to drown the other out.
I found this exchange to be particularly hilarious coming from our stuffy North American "too polite" standards.
Heaven forbid someone else hears your music!
In the mornings when I would stand on the deck the construction workers across the street would wave at me and shout "good morning!" and I enjoyed watching them get deliveries of sandwiches and Fanta throughout the day.
At night we would walk home and pass people's houses with doors wide open, usually with the TV on or sometimes playing the radio. We experimented with different streets to see which way was the most efficient (and had the fewest potholes), and got to know all the local landmarks which helped us find our way home in the dark, or the rain, or after a few drinks.
Our location allowed us to immerse ourselves in island life in a way that isn't available with a hotel or resort.
There's an ebb and flow to neighbourhoods and cities, and I deeply miss the early mornings, busy days, and quiet nights that we experienced in The Bahia.
One night we were hanging out at the Windsor pizza place and the guy managing the restaurant decided to bike home with us as we walked. We passed by the convenience store with its bright, fluorescent lights cutting through the darkness and he pointed at one of the wooden houses on stilts across the street:
"See that place?" he said "that's my home. I own that place! I moved here from Belize City and now I own my own home on this beautiful island. I'm living the dream."
And I realized: maybe he actually is.
- by Alyson Shane
One of the things I love about travelling are the people you meet.
I've met heaps of Aussies. Brits. Belgians. Puerto Ricans. French. Italian. Spanish.
Canadians upon Canadians upon Canadians.
And of course tons of Americans. Most of whom are nice, thoughtful, and really interesting and intelligent people with unique perspectives and lots of stories to share.
This story is about Americans who were none of those things.
We met them when we were sitting in The Penalty Box which is a bar where Canadian expats on the island get together to drink beer and watch hockey.
It used to be a liquor store called the Liquor Bin but has since changed to an actual bar with tons of sports jerseys on the walls, team photos, and heaps of Leafs paraphernalia all around. It's owned by a Canadian expat. Big surprise.
I'm not a big sports person myself but we needed a rest and Canadians are friendly so we sat down and ordered a beer, said "please" and "thank you" and "sorry" to the dudes watching the TV because we walked in front of the screen.
Typical Canadian stuff.
A few minutes in I was looking out the front of the bar, which is one of those big garage-door types that you roll up during the day and roll down at night, and this girl walked by.
We locked eyes and she screamed
WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?
and jumped right into the bar through the open window over to where John and I were sitting.
Her name was Angela* and she was wasted.
She immediately hopped behind the bar and started taking beers and pouring shots for everyone, us included. So we did a shot with her
(because nobody turns down a free shot while on vacation)
and her boyfriend Josh* walked in off the street and sat down.
Angela said "we got wasted last night and I thought Josh was going to get Advil... but instead he came back with a bottle of tequila so we sat in bed passing it back and forth for a few hours and here we were now!"
And here they were, indeed.
Josh ordered another round of beers for the bar and she ordered another round of shots, and we watched in polite Canadian style as Angela made a scene in the bar for the next 45 minutes.
Now let me paint this picture for you: this girl was stunning. Tall, thin, beautiful with this adorable little nose and huge, long eyelashes. She could have and maybe even was a model. I don't know.
What I do know is that I saw more of her booty grinding on everything in that bar than I saw in all my nights out clubbing as a kid. This girl was waggling her stuff everywhere, twerking all over the place and climbing onto the bar Coyote Ugly style for her boyfriend (who was mortified), a bunch of 40yr old Canadian dudes who just wanted to watch some hockey,
There was some sort of construction happening upstairs where the bar owner lived so she ran up there and was harassing the dudes working, then after a few minutes she would come down and pour herself another beer, write in her "log book" and generally make a giant scene before running back upstairs to start the cycle over again.
Her bf turned to me and said "we've only been going out for three months and when we get back to NYC we are breaking the fuck up"
which usually I would think was shady but if my partner was twerkin' it in booty shorts for strangers I'd probably be re-thinking my life choices, too.
Anyway at some point
(probably after Angela ran down the street and took someone's bike and began riding it back and forth in front of the bar)
he got tired of her shenanigans and went to go pay. We tuned out a bit at this point but a few minutes later Angela's back in the bar asking "where did my boyfriend go?"
After checking the bathroom and looking up and down the street it was obvious he'd left. Just up and abandoned her on an island she'd never been to. Alone. Wasted.
Oh and did I mention she didn't know where she was staying, so she was also completely lost?
Luckily some nice Canadians (us) were on the scene so we settled up and started to walk her home which of course took over an hour because she had to stop and chat with everyone we met, including shaking her booty in front of the local island gangsters on a dock in the ocean, which was an experience in and of itself.
By the time we got her to her hotel room where her bf was passed out it was after dark and we needed to go get something to eat to balance out all those shots we'd had earlier. So we left her in her room with a bottle of water and headed on our way.
Later that night we ran into Josh at the local pizza place where we were indulging in Caesars and Winsdor-style pizza I gave him an earful about leaving his gf behind, because honestly I don't care what a shitshow your gf is being you never leave anyone alone when they're that wasted, especially when they don't know how to get home safely.
Like, c'mon dude you save people's lives for a living and you can't even keep your gf safe?
That's a loser move.
Eventually he went off to go have a threesome with his cousin and his cousin's gf who was feeding him pizza in what I assume was supposed to be a sexy way
and when we saw them both walking down Front St. the next morning Josh and Angela were cuddling and kissing and holding hands like nothing had happened the night before
and didn't recognize us at all.
* Names have been changed to protect the wasted.
- by Alyson Shane
I really didn't want to learn to scuba dive.
I'm from a landlocked province with nice lakes but not ones that you really go diving in because Manitoba's soil has a lot of clay in it, which is great for growing barley and wheat and other crops but it makes our waterways look murky and brown.
Mostly though I didn't want to learn to scuba dive because the idea of going deep down underwater with only a tank strapped to my back scares the living daylights out of me.
But I don't want to be the kind of person who doesn't push herself, so when we arrived on the island I booked a 4-day course at Frenchie's Diving, a super-reputable place and where John also got certified to scuba dive several years ago.
Maybe you already know how to get certified to scuba dive but here's basically what's involved:
Day 1: You fill out your forms and waivers and spend 4-5 hours sitting in a room watching DVDs about scuba diving and following along in a book because there's an exam at the end.
Day 2: You learn how to check your gear (the most important part) and start learning how to use it in chest-high water in the ocean, kneeling on the sand and showing you can perform a series of movements.
Day 3 + 4: You practice checking your gear and diving a few more times. In total you do about 4 dives at progressively deeper and deeper depths throughout the course.
My biggest fear (besides not being able to breathe) was having to keep my eyes open underwater. I need glasses or contacts to see, and it stressed me out to think of losing one - or both - of them if my mask got flooded. It's not exactly like I can take off my mask and put them back in underwater, and I was worried that it would impede my experience, or distract me
Then, on our first dive, my contact lens fell out of my right eye.
Like, right away.
So I just carried on diving and made the most of it. It was one of those weird reaffirming moments where the worst has happened and you just manage it and then go:
"why was I even worried about this in the first place?"
and after that I wasn't worried anymore. It's like a switch turned on in my brain and I was able to chill the heck out and pay attention to what I was experiencing.
Which was, of course, amazing.
On our second dive, our dive master found a white sea urchin and handed it to each of us to hold in our hand. When it was my turn I could feel its tube feet cling to my skin, and when I turned my hand over the urchin stayed stuck to my palm!
We saw two sea turtles, a barracuda, a big arrow crab, a grouper fish, and lobster, eels, and enough coral that it felt we were like swimming through an underwater garden.
On our last dive we were performing a controlled ascent
(which is where you swim up slowly and wait every few feet to let the nitrogen in the compressed air you're breathing dissolve in your body so you don't get the bends)
and our dive master noticed a tiny crab living on the shot line.
It crawled over our hands as we passed it around and it felt unbelievable to be holding this little creature in my hand in his natural habitat. He was maybe half the size of my finger and covered in the same seaweed as the shot line so he was camouflaged perfectly.
We put him back safely and resumed our ascent but I felt emotional for a bit afterward.
It made me glad that I'd gotten over my anxiety to experience something that reminded me
we're all just a bunch of weird animals doing what we can to get by.
- by Alyson Shane
A small collection of memories from our trip in Caye Caulker, Belize, over a series of blog posts.
Cars aren't allowed on Caye Caulker so everyone drives around in golf carts, and some of them are available to rent as taxis so you can get around.
One night John and I needed to get back to our AirBnB and then get back into town, so we hailed a taxi and hopped on.
We'd seen the driver around before: he looks like he's straight outta compton, and since nobody else on the island dresses like that he stood out.
He gave us a lift there and back and was really quiet, which was unusual.
Most of the taxi drivers are super chatty and give you their name and phone number so you can call them whenever.
Some of them will even deliver your groceries for you.
Like I said, the Caye Caulker hustle is real.
So anyway fast-forward to a few nights later when we're out with some friends we made on the island.
We're talking about Thug Taxi and our friend Jenn gasps and says
"that guy isn't a taxi! He gave us a lift from the water taxi and someone told us later that he doesn't have a taxi license."
The next day we saw him as we were on our way to the laundromat and he waved at us. John yelled "hey, what are you up to today?" and he held up a bag of clothes and said
"it's laundry day, man."
- by Alyson Shane
Y'know when you've been putting something off for so long and you just keep procrastinating even though you know you need to just deal with it? That's me and this haircut.
I have my wavy hair keratin straightened about once a year and I'm trying to time it so I get my hair treated right before we go to Belize since I don't want to be dealing with some frizzy, annoying hair situation while we're down there. So it makes sense to get a haircut and the treatment done at the same time, right?
Except all these weird little things have popped up that have prevented me from booking it. I remember at the wrong hours; the line is busy when I call and I forget to call back; dumb shit like that.
You know how it is. We've all done this little song and dance before.
I'm not much for new year's resolutions but I've decided to commit to not procrastinating so much moving forward. Putting off dumb stuff just causes stress to pile up and if there's one thing I want to be in 2018 it's
Earlier we were watching the final episode of BSG and I found myself doing my usual mental gymnastics where I hop from one worry to the next like a frog jumping from one big lily pad to another. I was trying to pay attention to all the flashbacks and emotional moments in the show and instead I kept getting lost in whatever I was worrying about, and I thought to myself:
stop, this is stupid.
I'm not thinking about how nice it is to relax with my partner. Not reflecting on the great night I had last night. I'm worrying about a bunch of stuff, none of which I can do anything about on New Year's Day, and letting it get in the way of actually enjoying my downtime.
I think I had one of those moments of clarity where it's like someone mentally bitchslapped you and things suddenly seem clear and make sense.
Because I realized that one of the reasons I've been feeling to tense and worrying so much is that I have all these small to-dos floating around that don't have a time, place, or action assigned to it in order to resolve them.
The more stuff piles up, the more overwhelmed I feel by all of it, and it gets to the point where I can't even focus on one of the best science fiction shows out there because I'm having a silent stress-out over on the couch over who knows what. My business. My clients. My personal life. Whatever.
So tomorrow I'm calling to book the dang haircut.
Cheers to the new year.
- by Alyson Shane
There's something comforting about the familiarity of doing the same things from time to time, and Christmas seems to bring that out in people.
The best Christmas I can remember was when I was really small. I don't really know how old.
Maybe we were in the old house on Murray. Maybe not.
Doesn't matter, really.
My dad was working a half-day, so my mom, brothers, and I bussed to his office in the park across town. I don't know if I remember taking the bus before then. The city felt new from this angle, and bigger than I'd realized. The ride felt like it lasted forever.
My dad's office was down a bunch of winding roads in a lonely-looking building surrounded by trees, and he worked in a long room that smelled like cigarettes, with a window at the end.
The places my dad worked; offices, clubhouses, tended to smell old and it always made me feel safe to be in them.
We piled into the car and my parents took us for lunch at the nearby Pizza Hut. We continued that tradition for years, even after my dad's office moved downtown, and after we all stopped bussing there together.
(I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for those greasy, gooey slices.)
So tonight we're making pizza from scratch.
Because 1. Pizza Hut is expensive and not really worth it quality-wise and 2. there isn't one nearby and half of the tradition is sitting in that tacky lounge with the stained-glass lamps overhead drinking Diet Cokes out of plastic cups with straws.
So instead we went a little crazy at the Italian special food's store up the street.
Fresh pizza dough. Salami. Capicollo. Prosciutto. Mozzarella and omg mini mini bocconcini. Maybe toss some artichoke hearts or anchovies or crimini mushrooms on there - who knows.
The possibilities are endless.
And even though it won't be exactly the same as I remember, that's okay.
Because that's how new traditions start.
- by Alyson Shane
Last night I was checking out a post on the amazingly well-named "Gates Notes" blog, run by Bill Gates, where he shared 5 of the best books he read in 2017. Of all the "roundup" type posts that tend to pop up this time of year, I like literature-related ones best because it gets me thinking about all the books I've read, and all the books out there that I've yet to add to my collection.
I definitely don't read as much as I used to (except that time I read all of Alias Grac's 564 pages in a week on vacation*) but I still manage to make my way through several books a year. However, seeing how much Bill Gates manages to read while also, y'know, being Bill Gates definitely acted as a reminder that I ought to spend more time with my nose stuck in a book.
* My god I can't wait to get down to Belize in January, read a shit-ton, and plan this wedding.
In any case, below is my roundup of 5 amazing books I read in 2017:
This one was hands-down my favourite. It's been a while since I've sunk my teeth into a good Stephen King novel; he kinda lost me with From a Buick 8 onward and I've never really gone back since (I think the trick is to go back and figure out which of his old works of horror and fiction I haven't read pre-Buick 8, and work my way up from there.)
As the name of the book implies, it's about writing. Not just why writers write, but an in-depth analysis of the challenges of being a writer, of struggling to have people accept your craft, and why you feel compelled to do it. It was nice to read about my craft in the words of someone who, arguably, is a much stronger wordsmith than I am, and who has been at it much longer than I have.
I also enjoyed being reminded of how funny he is; how quippy, with those weird little sayings that always made his characters that much more believable. His was a refreshing perspective on the art of writing, and reminded me that I should read more about what I do, not just the ways I do it.
Obviously I read Bernie Sanders' book, which was released in November 2016. I was pro-Bernie from the moment he appeared on the political stage (ask me about my views on climate change, free post-secondary tuition, or the need for universal health coverage.)
Since I was already pretty well-versed with his political ideas, and why he believed them to be true, the book served as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of how he and his campaign managed to harness the sentiment of a growing, engaged Millennial class of voters and capture the imagination of people like me to the point where he was able to, with no campaign money, no political organization, took on the Democratic Party establishment.
I haven't read any Margaret Atwood since my binge on Alias Grace a few years back, and it was refreshing to return to an author who spends so much time analyzing her character's motivations and fears.
The novel's main character, Joan Foster, is an author who lives secret lives from the people around her, constantly worried that she will be "found out" as being less than she is perceived to be (as someone who regularly deals with anxiety and impostor syndrome, this book was often like having my own worries read back at me.)
I felt like Joan was symbolic of contemporary womanhood: trying to be everything to everyone, all the while hiding, deliberately ignoring, or shaming herself for her fantasies and talents, and it was lovely to immerse myself in Atwood's witty and often surprisingly sharp prose.
Okay, so technically I haven't finished this one yet, but I'm close.
I haven't picked up a Murakami novel in years (I voraciously read through several of his novels in my late teens, my favourite being Norwegian Wood, which I highly recommend) and his brevity was an interesting contrast from Lady Oracle, which I finished shorty before starting this novel.
Like many of Murakami's novels, Colorless Tskuru is a Bildungsroman (hi, Rhetoric degree) though significantly less whimsical than some of his other works. The novel focuses on "colorless" Tskuru Tazaki, who is nicknamed as such because all of his childhood friends have a colour as part of their last names. One day during his college years he comes home and learns that his friends have cut all ties with him, seemingly with no reason. This devastates Tskuru, and leaves him feeling empty or "lacking in color and identity" according to Murakami. The novel begins when Tskuru is 32, and follows him as he travels to visit each of his former friends to discover why they cut ties with him in order to gain a sense of closure.
Since I haven't fully finished the novel I won't delve too deep into what I like and don't like about it so far, but I wanted to include it because reading work from non-English speaking authors is always an interesting experience. I mentioned Murakami's brevity above, and I'm continually impressed with his exploration of heartbreak, loneliness, and the human psyche without delving into the flowery language that tends to gum up English authors when they start delving deep into a personal or psychological problem. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the novel concludes.
I started reading this memoir shortly after the 2016 election which left me, like many other people, reeling and feeling as though they fundamentally didn't understand the surge of white anger happening in America. I was grasping for some sort of understanding of the kinds of people who would vote for someone like Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's memoir about growing up in a small Appalachian town was exactly what I needed to broaden my horizons.
The memoir is part reflection, part sociological analysis of the "hillbilly culture" he grew up with, which acts as both a source of pride, and a social mechanism which keeps people firmly in their socio-economic place, unable to (and in some cases, unwilling to) do what was necessary for a better life for themselves. It was a stark, eye-opening analysis of what's happening in rural America, and how the social rot encouraged by "hillbilly culture" has affected the United States.
Did you read any amazing books this year? Tweet at me and let me know!